Captain of Toronto in 2014, Caldwell has sent out a strong message to MLS.

Steven Caldwell: “Sky’s the limit” for Toronto FC’s sensational rebuild

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Barking out orders to a bunch of local youth players on a cold, wet and misty morning in the Glasgow suburbs last autumn, it was clear for all to see that Steven Caldwell’s leadership skills are second to none.

After spending his career as a central defensive stalwart with various Premier League teams in England, Caldwell oozes experience and composed confidence. His career has seen him represent Scotland, play in the UEFA Champions League and spend several seasons in England’s top-flight.

WATCH: Seattle vs. Toronto FC, 4:30 p.m. ET live on NBCSN and online

But now arguably his biggest challenge awaits, as the veteran Scottish defender captains Toronto FC. Caldwell, 33, arrived in Major League Soccer midway through the 2013 season and signed a permanent deal to stick around in what could be a breakout season.

Following a major cash injection from TFC’s owners Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) over the offseason, Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley arrived to much fanfare as Toronto’s much-anticipated 2014 season kicks off away to the Seattle Sounders on Saturday (Watch live on NBCSN, 4:30pm ET and online via Live Extra) with the rest of the league casting a watchful eye on Ryan Nelsen’s revolution on the banks of Lake Ontario.

Expectation levels at TFC are high after several below-par seasons and not a single playoff appearance in their seven-year MLS history.

“We’ve got a great front office, great coaching staff, great players and a fantastic city. We’ve got everything here to be a major force in world football,” Caldwell said. “MLS is growing at such a rapid rate, one or two teams are going to rise from MLS and become a global brand. That’s what we want to be. As players we have to start making playoffs and winning MLS Cup’s, once that happens I believe this club can be huge.”

Going back to that opening image of Caldwell coaching in his native land, I was fortunate enough to work alongside him in a professional capacity back in November 2012 as we both completed our UEFA B coaching license in Scotland. A calm coach who knew when to step in and when to let sessions flow, Caldwell’s aura off the pitch was indicative of a leader who lets his boots and actions do the talking.

source: AP
Clint Dempsey and Seattle are Toronto’s opponents, as TFC’s much-anticipated season starts with a bang live on NBCSN this Saturday.

“We are expecting big things, but we know it’s not going to be easy,” Caldwell said of TFC’s hopes for 2014. “There are a lot of very good, established teams in this league. We’ve got a lot of new guys trying to gel, it’s going to take a little bit of time. But with the quality that we have we’re hoping for at least the playoffs and then to try and push for MLS Cup. That’s the aim.”

MLS Season Preview: Toronto FC

That task of launching a monumental turnaround in Toronto — the franchise has failed to win more than 10 MLS games in a single season since they arrived in 2007, plus have a record of 17-51-34 over the last three campaigns — is not an easy one, and Caldwell accepts that.

TFC have suddenly vaulted from a team used to propping up the standings to a favorite for the Eastern conference and MLS Cup. Without even kicking a ball in 2014. Dealing with those expectations and fostering a winning mentality at TFC, where struggles have been commonplace for most, if not all, of the teams existence, is easier said than done.

“We have got to accept that responsibility and take that pressure on,” Caldwell said. “It will come with the players we’ve signed, but we need to embrace that and enjoy the challenge of having to win every week. That’s a little bit new to Toronto Football Club. Hopefully we can rise to that challenge and be the team everybody wants to beat.”

As for Toronto’s season opener, it could hardly be tougher. A trip to CenturyLink Field is something most teams and players dread, as Seattle’s talented squad, in front of their sizable, loud home crowd, makes for a tough environment. But Caldwell is the type of character who thrives in a cauldron of animosity. And the 6-foot-3 Scotsman revealed his side are ‘champing at the bit’ to get their season underway, after being forced to watch on during opening weekend as TFC had a bye-week.

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A leader on and off the field, Caldwell has slotted in superbly at the heart of TFC’s defense.

“It is a huge game, they’re expecting a massive crowd, so it will be a very exciting game to play in,” Caldwell said. “Seattle have got some top players, they’ve brought Clint Dempsey back to MLS and are going to be a challenge. We understand it’s going to be a tough, tough game. But we are of the caliber now that we feel like we can go anywhere and achieve results. We have to be hard to beat, first and foremost, but our quality means we’re capable of winning most, if not every, game.”

That new-found star quality Caldwell speaks of comes mostly from the acquisition of Bradley, the U.S. international midfielder. Arriving from Italian giants AS Roma for $10 million in January, and reportedly paid $5.8 million a year in wages, Bradley is the focal point of TFC’s revolution. On Saturday fans across the USA and Canada will be tuning in to watch Bradley go head-to-head with USMNT colleague Dempsey, as two of MLS’ poster boys square off.

In terms of settling back into MLS with Toronto, it’s a case of so far, so good, for the “General,” according to Caldwell.

“I’ve been very, very impressed. He’s a very mature young man and a fantastic player,” Caldwell said. “Michael is a real winner, which is very exciting for us. He’s going to be a major player for this football club for many years to come. It’s a big coup for us to have such a quality player coming from a huge team like AS Roma. That fact that he chose to play for us, when he probably could’ve joined some of Europe’s best teams, is a major coup.”

Many thought with the money TFC splashed to bring Bradley to BMO Field, plus his experience in Europe and with the U.S., that he’d be taking the captain’s armband on arrival.

source: AP
Michael Bradley, right, and Jermain Defoe are two of the most expensive players in MLS history. They’ll team up to help Toronto win it all in 2014 and beyond.

But it shows the huge admiration and faith head coach Nelsen has in Caldwell. The big Scot revealed that respect is reciprocal, as he heaped praise on Nelsen’s coaching techniques and is desperate to repay the faith shown in him by his manager.

Captaining teams is not new to Caldwell. He’s been the skipper of Burnley, Birmingham City and now Toronto, which is a role Caldwell is relishing as he leads TFC into a brave new era.

But what about the future? Can Toronto really overtake the perennial MLS powerhouses?

Caldwell has been with Toronto since the start of the sides huge rebuild, and despite hiccups along the way, the progress everyone was hoping for is finally clicking into place ahead of the 2014 season.

“When I came to Toronto at the end of last May, I still felt like we were progressing a little bit. Not as quickly as we would’ve liked, but this process is a building period,” Caldwell said. “We’ve now got a structure, a nucleus and a way we want to play. The guys who’ve been kept on this season know their jobs and roles. We’ve got the base to be a very successful team, with the likes of Defoe, Bradley and Gilberto adding to that. We need to learn how to win consistently now. Once we do that, the sky is the limit for this football club.”

La Liga roundup: Barcelona, Atleti, Real Madrid separated by one point

Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic, left, celebrates with teammate Jordi Alba, second left, after scoring against Betis during their La Liga soccer match at the Benito Villamarin stadium, in Seville, Spain on Saturday, April. 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Angel Fernandez)
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A roundup of the weekend’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Real Betis 0-2 Barcelona

Barcelona wobbled; they stumbled; they even went down to one knee so as to avoid being knocked out a couple weeks ago. From nine points ahead with fewer than 10 games remaining in the season, to suddenly level on points with Atletico Madrid, the season was slipping away, and in stepped Luis Suarez with back-to-back four-goal games to end a three-game losing streak, followed by Saturday’s 2-0 away triumph over Real Betis.

Ivan Rakitic (50th minute) and Suarez (81st minute – 35 league goals, 15 assists) provided the goals for Luis Enrique’s side with absolutely zero margin for error between now and the end of the season two weeks down the road. The math is simple: if Barca win their remaining two games, they’ll be crowned champions for a second consecutive season, all thanks due to their obscene goal differential.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Rayo Vallecano

How much longer can Atleti keep hold of Antoine Griezmann, Los Rojiblancos‘ brilliant talisman for the last two seasons (43 goals, 6 assists combined)? Still just 25 years old, the Frenchman is a surefire top-10 player in the world right now, and will surely be the subject interest from Europe’s freest-spending clubs once again this summer.

Griezmann bagged the only goal in Atleti’s 1-0 home victory over Rayo Vallecano on Sunday, keeping the Spanish capital’s “other” side level on points with Barca. It was a stunning strike that, in a just world, would wipe away 10 or 15 of Barca’s 31-goal advantage in the goal-differential column.

Real Sociedad 0-1 Real Madrid

“Hey! Hey, guys! Don’t forget about us!” It must be so difficult to be a Real Madrid fan right now, what with Barca and Atleti currently sitting first and second, and everyone seemingly forgetting about Los Blancos and the fact they’re a measly point behind their two most hated rivals. Sure, it’ll require a fatal slip-up by both of the sides ahead of them, but stranger things have happened.

Saturday’s 1-0 victory away to Real Sociedad saw Zinedine Zidane push his record as first-team manager of Madrid to 15W-2D-1L in league play (47 points – best in La Liga during that period). With Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema once again out injured, Gareth Bale scored the game’s only goal with fewer than a dozen minutes remaining in regular time.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Barcelona 36 27 4 5 104 29 75 15-1-2 12-3-3 85
Atlético Madrid 36 27 4 5 60 16 44 14-3-1 13-1-4 85
Real Madrid 36 26 6 4 105 32 73 15-1-2 11-5-2 84

Elsewhere in La Liga

Valencia vs. Villarreal (ongoing)
Athletic Bilbao 2-1 Celta Vigo
Espanyol 1-0 Sevilla
Granada 3-2 Las Palmas
Deportiov La Coruña 0-2 Getafe
Sporting Gijon 2-0 Eibar

Fan at Turkish soccer game invades pitch, gets kicked in the face by a player

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A fan at a game in the second tier of Turkish soccer found out the hard way why it’s a bad idea to run onto the field and cause trouble.

In the second half of Saturday’s matchup between 2nd placed Karabukspor and 6th placed Elazigspor, a number of fans ran onto the field. In the fracas, one of the pitch invaders ran at the referee and threw something at him. In response, as the usher tries to grab the fan, a player comes in and throws a flying kung-fu kick to the fan’s face. The kick ends up catching him in the face, and there’s some collateral damage as the usher takes a bit of the attack as well.

The “weapon” the fan possesses appears to be a wooden spoon, and he has two of them (seriously? who has not one but two wooden spoons at a soccer game?). He throws the first at the ref – which misses – and then in an attempt to defend himself, he throws the second at the player, which connects mid-kick.

Turkish soccer has struggled to prevent fans and players from interacting violently. Last week, a top flight match between Trabzonspor and Fenerbahce – two big clubs in Turkish soccer – was abandoned in injury time when a fan brutally attacked a referee.

VIDEO: Louis van Gaal has animated post-match reaction to Fellaini incident vs. Leicester City

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Louis Van Gaal has his own, very unique style in describing big moments in matches. Geoff Shreeves surely knows this each and every time he goes to interview the Manchester United boss.

And yet, he continues to show us something new each and every time.

During the first half of Manchester United’s match with Leicester City at Old Trafford on Sunday, Marouane Fellaini and Robert Huth had a confrontation during a corner. Replays showed that Huth grabbed Fellaini’s hair at the same time the Belgian threw an elbow at the Leicester defender. Van Gaal was obviously focused on Huth’s misgivings.

[ RECAP: Leicester City guts out 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, can win Premier League on Monday ]

In an attempt to convey his feelings, Van Gaal grabbed Shreeves’ hair, saying, “When you see what Huth is doing with Fellaini, that’s a penalty. Shall I grab you with your hair, what is your reaction? Your hair is much shorter than Fellaini’s, but when I do that, what are you doing then?”

It got weirder. Much weirder. Van Gaal continued to say, “I think that’s a normal reaction. Every human being who is grabbed with the hair…only with sex masochism, then it is allowed, but not in other situations.”

Southampton 4-2 Manchester City: Southampton carves up City behind Mane hat-trick, Tadic service

during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Manchester City at St Mary's Stadium on May 1, 2016 in Southampton, England.
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Manchester City clearly had one eye on the Champions League semifinals. It came at the expense of their chances to remain in the competition next year.

The visitors at St. Mary’s had the opportunity to lock up Champions League play next season with all three points, but instead Manuel Pellegrini rested a number of starters including Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne, and Southampton ripped them apart in a 4-2 win. Saido Mane grabbed a hat-trick and Dusan Tadic had a trio of assists as their attack swarmed a mistake-prone and clearly distracted Manchester City.

Both sides had spells in the opening 20 minutes, but Southampton appeared more dangerous. Shane Long made multiple appearances in front of the Manchester City goal, picking the pocket of Pablo Zabaleta to earn a corner on 15 minutes and shooting just wide of the near post in the 19th minute.

Frasier Forster was required to keep the game scoreless in the 20th minute as Kelechi Iheanacho stole the ball from Virgil van Djik on the touchline and found Raheem Sterling in space inside the box, but his shot was saved expertly by Forster.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

It would be the in-form Long to take the lead in the 25th minute on a beautiful bit of play. A fantastic ball over the top of the City defense fell to a streaking Dusan Tadic, and his flick over the top met a sliding Shane Long, who beat Nicolas Otamendi for the opener.

They’d get a second just four minutes later on yet another sweet-looking goal, with Tadic getting yet another assist with a perfectly weighted ball for Saido Mane, who smacked it by Joe Hart from a tight angle.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Southampton continued to press and hold much of the meaningful possession, but Manchester City refused to capitulate, scoring a lifeline before halftime. With the ball in the Southampton penalty area, Cuco Martino saw the ball skip off his thigh and pop into the air, where Iheanacho latched onto it and headed it into the net.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

It was a tough way for the hosts to go into halftime, as they had dominated much of the first half, but no matter, as they made amends. Following the break, Southampton restored their two-goal lead off a corner in the 57th minute as Van Djik’s header was tipped by Joe Hart off the crossbar. Jose Fonte whiffed at the rebound but Mane was there from point blank range to give Southampton a 3-1 lead.

Mane would complete his hat-trick in the 68th minute. Van Djik won the ball in the Southampton half to start the break, and Tadic picked up his third assist of the match as he slotted Mane through on goal for yet another clinical finish.

Manchester City got another back as Iheanacho bagged his second in the 79th minute with a wonderful curler from outside the box, but it was too little too late for the visitors.

Both teams fought until the final whistle, and it could have cost Jesus Navas his fitness as the Spaniard seemingly picked up a serious limp in the final few minutes.